A Designer's 4 Small-Space Do's and Don'ts for Every Room in the House

Updated 04/19/19

Amy Bartlam; Design: Katie Hodges

All of the standard reasons for living in a small space seem positive at first. It's cheaper, for starters. It's also environmentally friendly, and will likely encourage you to spend more time outside. And with fewer places to store things away, you're probably going to be more aware of what you own—which is good for Marie Kondo enthusiasts, and budgets, too. 

But if there's one immediate con to realizing the ever-more-popular American Dream of downsizing, it's this: figuring out where life is supposed to fit in. Sure, in theory, we all want to save money and live more intentionally. But really, we also want to be comfortable. So it's no surprise when a small space ends up feeling like a big negative. 

In order to envision the potential of scant square footage without losing sight of style and comfort, we asked Brian Smith, a founding partner at the design and development group Studio Tack, for some practical tips to keep in mind as you arrange small bathrooms, kitchens, living areas, and bedrooms. The key? Go into each room with a plan. Read on to learn more about how to create small-space solutions that have the needs of everyday life in mind.

Bathroom

Bathroom—Small Space Solutions
Sarah Sherman Samuel

A Common Design Issue With Small Bathrooms: "Small bathrooms can feel even smaller with solid shower curtains," Smith says. "They are basically soft walls that can make you feel even more cramped and enclosed."

A Layout Idea That Would Solve It: "If you have a bathtub, treat it like a walk-in shower enclosed with glass and only use a clear shower liner," he notes. "I use a 10-gauge vinyl shower curtain liner that is mold and mildew resistant. Being able to see through the liner helps small bathrooms feel more expansive. If youʼre worried about soap and water stains, use a daily after-shower cleaner or toss it in the washer once a week."

A Major Don't for Designing Small Bathrooms (and Why): "Avoid bulky vanities that can eat up a lot of floor space," Smith adds. "Instead, use a pedestal sink and install glass shelves and a medicine cabinet for storage."

Kitchen

Kitchen—Small Space Solutions
Sara Tramp; Design: Jess Bunge for EHD

A Common Design Issue With Small Kitchens: "Not enough counter space and storage," he says.

A Layout Idea That Would Solve It: "Invest in a high-quality, solid wood butcher board, and place this on top of the stove," he notes. "Itʼs a beautiful and practical solution to a lack of surface area in a small kitchen. For cabinet storage, use a Lazy Susan for quick and easy access to cupboard items."

A Major Don't for Designing Small Kitchens (and Why): "Don't obstruct the flow of your kitchen with bulky appliances," Smith continues. "If you can, install the microwave above the counter. If you donʼt use an appliance often—looking at you, kitchen stand mixers—store it away."

Living Room 

Dining Room—small space solutions
Amy Bartlam; Design: Katie Hodges 

A Common Design Issue With Small Living Rooms: "Not being sure where to place everything," he says.

A Layout Idea That Would Solve It: "Small spaces can actually feel more inviting and homey if you embrace a 'more is more' approach to furniture," he notes. "Adding more furniture can help this room feel intimate and inviting. Layer in personal keepsakes, books, and flowers for a space that exudes personal character and warmth."

A Major Don't for Designing Living Rooms (and Why): "Avoid lining furniture against walls in an effort to make a space feel larger," Smith adds. "Thereʼs no working around a small space, so itʼs best to embrace the size by pulling the furniture into the room to create the appearance of fullness."

Bedroom

Emily Henderson—small space solutions
Sarah Tramp; Design: Emily Henderson

A Common Design Issue With Small Bedrooms: "Bulky furniture that sits on the floor," Smith says.

A Layout Idea That Would Solve It: "Editing is crucial when it comes to living in small spaces," he continues. "The recent craze over the KonMari approach to decluttering is actually quite helpful here. First, edit down your belongings to the essentials: the things you love and the things you need. Second, buy furniture that perfectly suits your edited belongings, so there are no extra dressers or storage bins needed. Lastly, choose furniture that sits off the ground on legs. Being able to see under furniture gives the appearance that the room is larger than it appears."

A Major Don't for Designing Small Bedrooms (and Why): "Not providing enough seating," Smith adds. "Think about the function of the roomʼs furniture. Do you really need two identical bedside tables, or can you make do with a simple shelf? This can help you fit in a place to sit, like a bench at the foot of the bed or a chair in the corner."

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